Rumor SPOTLIGHT for April 5, 2014: Unlimited FastPass+ versus Potter’s third phase – the battle for the future is heating up

Rumor SPOTLIGHT for April 5, 2014: Unlimited FastPass+ versus Potter’s third phase – the battle for the future is heating up

Rumor SPOTLIGHT for April 5, 2014: Unlimited FastPass+ versus Potter’s third phase – the battle for the future is heating up

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In case there was any doubt that 2014 will be the most important year yet for the theme park industry (here in Central Florida, at least), news keeps trickling in from both official and unofficial sources that only serves to bludgeon us over the head with the irrefutable fact. It’s simultaneously thrilling and painful.

What is transpiring is nothing short of an ever-broadening war between Disney and Universal, with maneuvers, counter-moves, and the deploying of nuclear submarines rapidly increasing (note: one of these three items is just hyperbole). Price increases are one highly visible front in this battle, and the lining up of future weapons is another, but it turns out that the real heavy-hitters may be arriving sooner than we ever before thought.

 

Fixing FastPass+

Earlier this week, Disney pulled off the (Mickey Mouse) gloves and announced what everyone has been asking for for a good while now: the company is backsliding a bit on its FastPass+ restrictions, easing them to reintroduce some of the features of the legacy FastPass system.

The first of these improvements is a “service enhancement” allowing guests to use their FP+ reservations at more than one theme park – yes, the park-hopping option on your tickets will once again be a value-filled addition. But the bigger and far more important development is the addition of extra reservation slots once the original three have been used up. And, much like the paper FastPass system, once this extra one has been utilized, yet another becomes available, and so on and so forth, with no announced cap. This means that all those touring-plan pros who used to be able to nab six or seven FastPasses in a day will be able to do so once again.

Least you get too excited, however, there are still some lingering limitations being imposed. Firstly, all of these additional reservations – that is to say, everything past the original three that can be booked online up to two months in advance – must be made in-park, at one of the infamous FP+ kiosks.

Line for the FastPass+ kiosks at Epcot.
Line for the FastPass+ kiosks at Epcot via UndercoverTourist.

Secondly, and this one is easy to overlook in the initial excitement of the announcement, it’s important to keep in mind that these unlimited reservations only open up once all three of the original bookings have been used; if you have FastPassed, say, an evening fireworks show, you won’t be eligible for a fourth FP+, let alone a seventh or eighth. This means that there will still be trade-offs to be considered and made (not too surprising, given the huge crush of people that descend on Walt Disney World every day of the year) – use all three slots up for the morning and hope that you can secure that character meet-n-greet for later on that night, or just play it safe? And is it even worth it to wait in line at the kiosk just to avoid waiting in line at Soarin’?

Lastly, the timing of these new expansions is, at this point, unknown. My guess is that Disney’s nebulous “sometime in the future” wording is to afford the greatest amount of flexibility on its part – should the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley prove to be even bigger of a threat than it was anticipating this summer, you better believe that the company will be berating its engineers and technicians to speed up the implementation process to sometime in July.

Now that the system is being drastically improved – and might even end up being better than Universal’s Express Passes – it looks like we might have to revisit our reader poll, won’t we?

 

Harry Potter: The next generation

Yes, it’s true: just as Universal was talking to Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling about Diagon Alley while finishing up Hogsmeade, discussions have been well underway about Harry’s inevitable third phase at Universal Orlando Resort. We mentioned off-handedly last week that Fear Factor Live might be taken over for this eventual (extra) expansion, with our current best guess being a recreation of the Ministry of Magic (which would make sense, given its location to the London waterfront right next-door). Now we have a few more morsels to add to the mix, and they are juicy, indeed.

A source unconnected to the previous one has come calling this past week, dropping off the rather startling revelation that – well, maybe we should back up first. As we’ve pointed out before, some may be a tad disappointed that only two rides will be on hand once Diagon Alley opens this summer: the Hogwarts Express and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Apparently, Universal already has had this criticism in mind, for it’s currently hard at work on a third, fourth, and, even, a fifth attraction, which all look to be deployed in and around both Diagon Alley and the supposed Ministry of Magic. Just what these new rides will be, exactly, is entirely unknown, although our source has said that not only have they been fully planned, their blueprints have already been sent off to various contractors.

Mind blown.
Mind blown.

This is interesting in the extreme. If one or two of these additional rides really do end up going inside Diagon Alley (say, in Carkitt Market, which suspiciously seems to have some extra room to spare), Universal won’t be tied down to the two-plus years of widespread construction that mired both Hogsmeade and Diagon; it can simply order them up at will, conceivably putting them on the accelerated time frame of either Transformers or Springfield USA. What better way to fend off the much more user-friendly FastPass+ experience, which might finally find the success that Disney has long been hoping for? The chess pieces here are becoming more and more flexible.

If, however, your mind is still stuck on the craziness that will be this summer’s Diagon Alley opening and can’t possibly process what three years from now might look like, our wizarding buddy has other goodies for you to chew on, as well. Regarding the Hogwarts Express, he claims that the train itself is all but ready and is “truly amazing” – yes, he’s been on it – and that, best of all, its capacity will actually be better than most think it will be, meaning that you’ll have a shorter wait in line.

In addition, the scary rumors we heard about Escape from Gringotts not being ready until August seem to be fading fast, replaced with much better intel that the kinks are getting worked out and the ride is likely to open with the rest of Diagon Alley – in June. (This, as with all rumors, is no guarantee until Universal makes the announcement.)

 

2015 – and beyond

So, Disney is counter-attacking Diagon Alley by rescinding much of its FastPass+ restrictions, opening up the possibility of a more enjoyable vacation for its millions of guests. And Universal is betting on a third Wizarding World sometime by the end of the decade to help keep all those people out of Disney’s parks, fixes or no. One can’t help but get the impression that Disney’s hand was forced to move much more quickly than it wanted on the MyMagic+ front, and it seems almost inevitable that Universal will, in turn, feel obligated to speed up its (wizarding) schedule, as well.

And the real kicker here is that we haven’t even gotten into all of the other developments that are lined up for the next handful of years – Avatar, Jurassic Park & King Kong, Star Wars. At this rate, don’t be surprised if all of their deployments are bumped up, as well.

By the time both theme park armies have finally been fully mobilized, the only thing missing really will be those nuclear subs.

 

Keep the conversation going!

Agree or disagree with the latest intel? Think we forgot something juicy? Want to offer your own take on the wildest rumors?

Well, then, join us at the brand-new Orlando Informer Forums and tell us!

What’s more, we’re celebrating our grand opening – meet our community and enter for your chance to win a Photo Connect Star Card package or one of three $100 Universal gift cards! Here’s the grand opening announcement.

 

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR

Orlando Informer will be viewed over 10 million times in 2014, and, believe it or not, among those viewers are some folks with pretty strong connections to Universal Orlando. As they contact us with insider intel, we collect their information and combine it with our own research to produce our weekly Rumor Round-Up. When information comes to us directly, we cite “our sources”; when information comes from outside our network, we always cite it as such and provide links to the original source. This is our 106th rumor post, and we’re proud to have provided our readers with compelling stories as we share our thoughts and actively promote dozens of other websites.

Despite the excitement that can come with covering rumors, we ask our readers to be ever-mindful that, unless explicitly stated as fact, everything we cover here must be considered a rumor and unofficial. If you’re ever confused by what is what, we invite you to join us for free in the OI Forums, where you can ask our vacation planning community for clarification and seek advice for anything else regarding your plans to visit Orlando.

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[sws_author_bio user=”msunyata@yahoo.com” size=”105″ authorposts=”More OI posts by Marc” name_format=”About the author”] [/sws_author_bio]

Marc N. Kleinhenz Marc N. Kleinhenz’s first dream in life was to be an astronaut. His second was an Imagineer. While neither completely worked out, he now works exclusively for Orlando Informer as a writer, editor, and podcast co-host. He’s also written for 32 other sites (including Screen Rant, IGN, The Escapist, and California Informer [OI's sister site]), has had his fiction featured in several publications, and has even taught English in Japan. Imagineering school won’t be too far behind.

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Twila Miller
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Twila Miller

Universal Studios cannot be beat (imo) and they’ve always offered express passes to on sight guests! Love USO!

Cristin Dixon
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Cristin Dixon

This is my perfect matchup. Disney and potter.

BrianArmstrong
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BrianArmstrong

The battle between the 2 parks is and always has been clear… example hollywood studios could be renamed park disney created once it hear Universal Studios is building a park. The loosen of restrictions for disney is great for the most park yes there are still downsides but it benefits people like me (or anyone who spends time on these sites) to get the most out of there trip because you can plan your trips so you get the most out of the trip possible. As for Harry Potter world bring it on anything HP I am in. If you… Read more »

BrianArmstrong
Guest
BrianArmstrong

One question I have is once you use up your 3 FP reservations how is the tier system going to play a role will you be able to make a reservation for any ride that is still available regardless of what tier it is in?

Melissa Stewart
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Melissa Stewart

Love Disney but NOTHING beats the Universal Express Passes.

Ingrid Unsworth
Guest
Ingrid Unsworth

Fast pass has messed everything up for us now in Disney, so it’s Universal all the way for our family! Can’t wait!!! ❤️❤️❤️

Annette Conway
Guest
Annette Conway

The main attraction for me at Universal is definitely the Harry Potter area and without this I would be unlikely to visit however really looking forward to visiting the Hogwarts Express, Gringotts and Diagonal Alley on next visit plus WDW.

Cheryl Reeve
Guest
Cheryl Reeve

I love both, but for the first time Universal is winning the battle for me. Will still go to Disney but not spending as many days as we normally would, Universal has our main attention this time.

Beverly Neumann Smith
Guest
Beverly Neumann Smith

We go to WDW every year and throw in Universal every 2-3 years. In January we are doing both and I am way more excited for Universal than Disney. Not thrilled with some of the recent changes at Disney – Magic Bands, Fastpass+, Disability Access Card, price increases, dining cancellation policy etc.. When we went to WDW this past December it was just a hassle touring the parks. I must say whenever we go to Universal we always comment on how much more relaxing it is compared to Disney. Can’t wait !!!

Todd Losey
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Todd Losey

Way to much harry potter, I like it but not a huge huge fan, let’s hope the popularity of Harry potter can last or universal is in big trouble.

Bev Loose
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Bev Loose

When my kids were small it was Disney all the time but now they’re teens they prefer Universal & Busch Gardens. Since Harry Potter opened Universal beats Disney hands down & when we go back in October it’s very unlikely that we’ll do Disney at all!!

DragoHarley
Guest
DragoHarley

I’d like to know if a Harry Potter-themed hotel will ever be built at Universal. It seems like a no brainer to me. Why not build a Beauxbatons & Durmstrang Hotel? There’s a chapter in Goblet of Fire named that, actually. Picture it: two main buildings, one themed in a French style (Loire Valley chateau?) and the other themed like an Eastern European Castle. The pool could have the Durmstrang ship in it and be themed to a lake, with waterslides coming off the ship. So, families with girls could want to stay in Beauxbatons and families with boys could… Read more »

DragoHarley
Guest
DragoHarley

Well, I can give you a Potter anecdote that still makes me chuckle. My aunt is kind of a grump and tends to hate whatever the new “fad” is. I think it makes her feel morally superior. My cousins are much younger than me and they were at the perfect age for the Potter books back in the late-90s/2000s. I remember being in the mall with my aunt and uncle and cousins and passing a bookstore when maybe Goblet of Fire was out in hardcover and my aunt went on and on about how the book series would never even… Read more »

BrianArmstrong
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BrianArmstrong

DragoHarley  I don’t see it becoming something that will go out of style. It is a crazy that has lasted top movies last and top books last and the harry potter series is definable as great (top). It also at the heart of it all is a theme park that has great rides and great experiences which is what you go for in a park and lets just say on an off chance in 10 years it doesn’t last it will have already paid for itself 10 times over (aka 250 million in first 4 months when hogsmede opened.) They… Read more »

Arno Briffaut
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Arno Briffaut
KevyB
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KevyB

I don’t think ANY updates to the FastPass+ can ever be compared to what’s going on at Universal. People already planning on a trip to WDW will no doubt be delighted by improvements to that system, but it’s not something that will lure people to the parks. “Hey family, Universal Orlando is opening a whole new Harry Potter land with two rides so I think we — OHMYGAWD FastPass+ has improved slightly??? LET’S GO TO WDW!!!!!” That conversation will NEVER happen.

KevyB
Guest
KevyB

DragoHarley  Never. If you’ve read just a handful of articles on this site, you would know how exacting Rowling is. She’d never allow a hotel that doesn’t exist in her books to exist in Universal’s world. Period.

JoshuaThomas
Guest
JoshuaThomas

I agree, Universal is settings themselves up for bankruptcy once Potter’s bubble pops.